Photos by Brennon Dixon.

The city of Santa Monica has celebrated Juneteenth for nearly three decades, but with official activities moved online this year, local residents gathered Friday to hold a Juneteenth event of their own.

Organized by Santa Monica High School students Kayla Lewis-Koury and Nayeli Barbosa, the rally began at Virginia Avenue Park around 11 a.m. Friday, and hundreds turned out for the demonstration, which would eventually make its way to City Hall about an hour after the group’s departure from the park.

“No Justice! No peace! No racist police!” rang over the sound of hovering helicopters as the caravan traveled down Pico Boulevard, weaved around the Third Street Promenade before it settled on the lawn of City Hall. Shortly after the group’s arrival, speakers, young and old, took the mic to share a word with a crowd in attendance.

“The kids who are out here fighting inspired me,” one speaker said. “You guys are the future.”

A “millennial” who later took center stage said his dad marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. before sharing the importance of maintaining the energy and amplifying Black voices — specifically females.

Jahmiu Yakubu, agreed with the sentiment in an interview during the rally.

“It’s hard to change things alone as a Black man, so to see all of these people here today, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Yakubu said. As a former Samohi student, “I’ve walked the streets of Santa Monica every day and never seen anything like this.”

Both, Barbosa and Lewis-Koury said after the event that they never expected the event to attract so many attendees when they initially began to plan it at 1 a.m. earlier this week.

“It was amazing to see all these people coming together as a community to fight together against police brutality and racial profiling… seeing all these people just warmed my heart because it shows that there are still great people in this world who use their voice and their power for good,” Barbosa said. “It was amazing to see all these racially different people from different sexualities and nationalities come together in the experience together. I was also very glad I saw so many familiar faces that went to my school supporting this movement and getting involved.”

“I face a lot of racism every single day and I see it in my family, my friends, in passer-bys; and it bothers me to see how many people don’t stand up to it. I wanted to organize this to show the better side of how many people support me and support my community,” Lewis-Koury added. “So, I thought we’d all come together and march from Virginia Park to City Hall just to show support for all of the Black people who have been killed by police brutality, by gun violence, by white supremacists.”

While she detailed her daily fight with prejudice, Lewis-Koury thanked everybody who attended and supported Friday’s event.

“It goes to show you’re never too young to make a difference and you’re never too small to make a change,” she said. “We just started this with a text that turned into an Instagram post that got shared with a lot of people. But to see so many people come out and celebrate Juneteenth and to stand up for all of the black lives lost — it really brings me hope when I was starting to lose it.”

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